Sister-founded Omsom challenges Asian American stereotypes — and tastes great too

Omsom isn’t just a line of Asian pantry staples. It’s a challenge to Asian American stereotypes. 

Sisters Vanessa and Kim Pham are first-generation Vietnamese Americans and daughters of refugees. They founded Omsom, a brand of bold, flavorful, mouth-watering Asian seasonings.

Growing up, “om sóm” was a word their parents used to scold them for being noisy, unruly and riotous. Today, reclaiming it is a way to fight back against the model minority stereotypes that frame Asian Americans as unassuming, meek and quiet. 

“My parents would chastise Vanessa and I for being like riled little kids. They’d be like, ‘Don’t be so om sóm.’ We loved this idea of really kind of reclaiming this negative phrase in Vietnamese and taking it back for ourselves,” Kim tells In The Know. 

The Omsom line includes seasoning starters for Southeast and East Asian staples like Korean spicy bulgogi, Japanese yuzu misoyaki and Vietnamese lemongrass BBQ

“We really wanted to create a brand that would reclaim and celebrate the multitudes within Asian flavor,” she adds. 

A big part of that was providing a counternarrative to the often dismissed and stigmatized ingredient MSG, or monosodium glutamate. Meriam-Webster came under fire in 2020, when Asian American activists brought attention to one of its terms: Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. 

The so-called “affliction” refers to feelings of dizziness and palpitations after eating Chinese food with MSG. The claims are scientifically false and ignore the fact that MSG is found in many popular foods, like ranch dressing and Doritos. 

“For so long MSG has wrongly had a demonized, villainized reputation in the U.S. because of a combination of bad, debunked science, as well as really anti-Asian, specifically anti-Chinese, xenophobia,” she explains. 

Kim clarifies that MSG is actually no more dangerous than salt and an excellent addition to many dishes. 

“So much of Omsom’s existence on this earth is really to be proud and loud,” she says, “and to give the middle finger to a lot of what folks assume or project upon Asian Americans — of being like quiet, submissive, model minorities. We just wanted to build something that felt really authentically us.” 

You can find MSG in Omsom’s Pepper Teigen collaboration. The Thai krapow starter is a spicy, sweet and umami basil stir-fry. 

“It’s really, really delicious, sometimes topped with a nice Thai fried runny egg,” Kim says. “It’s already such a popular and delicious, very savory street food dish. I think MSG works really well with it because it really ties all those flavors together.” 

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